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Baltimore has ‘10 times’ more opportunity than issues, likely Harborplace developer and native P. David Bramble says

The potential transformation of downtown Baltimore’s once-iconic Harborplace would be the latest in a string of increasingly high-profile projects for Baltimore native P. David Bramble.

Bramble, 45, has amassed as managing partner of MCB Real Estate roughly $2 billion in assets under management and a national portfolio that includes roughly 2 million square feet under development in cities from Atlanta to Philadelphia.

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Now he and his MCB Real Estate firm have struck a deal to acquire Harborplace, the struggling onetime centerpiece of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor redevelopment in the 1980s, out of receivership.

But Bramble, in an interview with The Baltimore Sun last week, focused primarily on what he described as his native Baltimore’s major untapped potential and underused assets. He pointed with particular pride toward a pending mixed-use project — with plans including housing and a grocery store — Madison Park, the neighborhood where he grew up and now lives.

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“Baltimore has 10 times the opportunity than it has issues,” said Bramble, pointing to the city’s deep-water port, extensive waterfront, close major airports and a location along major rail and highway corridors between D.C. and New York. “Do you know how many cities would kill for all the things that we have? And the opportunities we have to build off of? So yes, I’m optimistic.”

Bramble, the son of the Rev. Peter Bramble, rector of St. Katherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church, and Joy Bramble, publisher of the The Baltimore Times, graduated from Baltimore City College and went on to study at Princeton and earn a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

He studied Russian — studying abroad in Kyiv, Ukraine, in high school and then in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, in college — and planned on working in business with the former Soviet Union before deciding against it. Bramble said he settled back in Baltimore both because he saw real opportunity in his hometown and to counteract a “brain drain” — especially among Black Baltimoreans — that he thinks is holding the city back.

He first got into real estate as an attorney commuting to work at an international law firm in D.C. and began investing in rowhouse rental properties with friends and relatives. He still recalls his first commercial project: an office building in the 2500 block of North Charles Street that houses a Bank of America.

But as a child and through law school, Bramble said he thought little of real estate and pictured developers as a greedy Hollywood caricature.

“All I could think of was Joe Pesci throwing poor people out of their homes to build condos,” Bramble said.

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As one would imagine, he holds a much different view of it now. Although Bramble stressed that profit still comes first — “my job is to make money for my investors” — he thinks development projects, done right, can do a lot to boost communities as well. And he bristles at criticism that equates development with gentrification at the expense of existing residents.

“Not that it can’t equal gentrification, it’s just that the two are not strictly connected,” Bramble said. “The truth is people like me, people who grew up in West Baltimore, we want to live in nice neighborhoods, too. We don’t want to live in neighborhoods that are dilapidated and everything’s falling down.

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“And the thing about it is, it’s totally doable, particularly in a place like Baltimore, where in a lot of these neighborhoods vacancy is 50%. You can move lots of new people in and do everything we can to preserve affordable housing for those who want to stay in the neighborhood.”

Bramble suggested the pending Madison Park project as a case in point. The first phase is scheduled to begin this spring or summer after delays to negotiate approval from Amtrak, Bramble said, and, once completed, it could bring desired amenities to his longtime neighborhood.

“I think that my biggest dream is Madison Park because Madison Park is really a chance to show that we can go into underserved markets and deliver first-class products,” Bramble said last month at his office in Clipper Mill, a historic redevelopment project his firm acquired a piece of. “We do deals all over the place. But very rarely do I get to do stuff in my own backyard that directly impacts my neighbors and my family.”

Among the other Baltimore projects Bramble and his partners are involved in include Yard 56, a shopping mall development in Greektown, and the redevelopment of the Northwood Plaza Shopping Center near Morgan State University.

Bramble said last month that he’s hunting for a tenant to anchor the redevelopment of another key Inner Harbor location, the 300 E. Pratt St. plot — now parking lots — that was once the site of the News American newspaper building.


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